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A Just Cause?

Res Publica

March 1990

by Julianne Babel

The United States’ invasion of Panama was an unfortunate mistake by President Bush. When looking at the invasion and the circumstances surrounding it, you can see that President Bush had other options and neglected to take advantage of them, making the invasion of Panama an unsuccessful foreign policy move for the United States.

There were three goals to accomplish during the Panama invasion: 1) to swiftly route resistance; 2) to capture the country’s dictator, Manuel Antonio Noriega, and bring him to trial in the U.S. on drug running charges; 3) to install a stable, democratic government headed by politicians who had apparently won May elections.

The first of the three goals, a standard military procedure, seemed to go off without any real mishaps. However, we must look at the casualties on both sides. Twenty-three U.S. soldiers were killed and over 300 wounded. Estimates on the Panamanian side were not as accurate. The U.S. government begins the estimates at 300 killed or wounded while unofficial estimates go up as high as 800 or more. President Bush stated, "We had estimates on the casualties ahead of time. And every human life is precious, and yet I have an answer, yes, it has been worth it." What has been worth it? Was it the capture of one man who the U.S. through two administrations had built into a menacing monster"instead of what he was, the tin-pot dictator of a not very important country as Time stated at the beginning of the year?

President Bush when asked about the reasoning behind the invasion said, "the death of the Marine; the brutalizing, really obscene torture of the Navy lieutenant, and the threat of sexual abuse and the terror inflicted on that Navy lieutenant’s wife; the declaration of war by Noriega; the fact that our people [weren’t sure that] we could guarantee the safety of Americans there."

Yet these following questions need to be answered. First, on Saturday morning, December 16, 1989, eight U.S. soldiers were threatened by a PDF (Panamanian Defense Force) policeman. Even though no violence or injury occurred during this encounter the PDF policeman was later picked up by U.S. MP’s and held under arrest for 90 minutes. What was the U.S. military doing arresting a police official of a recognized foreign power? The next question arises from an incident on Saturday night, December 16, 1989. During this incident four unarmed U.S. servicemen were threatened at a roadblock near PDF headquarters. This incident unfortunately ended in the killing of Marine Lt. Robert Paz. What were four U.S. servicemen doing near the blocked off PDF headquarters? The last question arises from an incident which few people seem to know of. This incident occurs on Monday, December 18, when a U.S. lieutenant shot and wounded a PDF corporal near a U.S. installation. The Pentagon later said that the lieutenant was not authorized to carry a pistol. What is a U.S. lieutenant doing carrying a pistol without authorization? Panama did its fair share of antagonizing but on the other side of the coin the U.S. is not totally free of any blame in causing the hostilities that arose.

A great amount of unrest in Panama would not exist if the U.S. had not employed sanctions. These sanctions have caused far greater harm to the innocent civilians of Panama that to its government. In the two years the sanctions have been implemented Panama’s economic production has dropped 25 percent, unemployment has reached to about 25 percent and the foreign debt has reached $4 billion one of the highest per capita in the world. It is estimated that the U.S. invasion has cost Panama $1 billion in property damages and looting.

Noriega has played spy, drug informant, ally, diplomat and arms dealer to guerrilla movements, both left (El Salvador) and right (Nicaragua) for the U.S. from early 1970 on. One of Noriega’s many bosses during his relations with the U.S. was George Bush during 1976 when Bush was the director of the CIA. Even as late as 1987 the Reagan administration was arguing that Noriega had been "fully cooperative" with the U.S. antidrug efforts. It is easy to compare Noriega to a child and the U.S. to the ever-present parent; as long as the child is submissive to the parent, everything is fine. But as soon as the child quits obeying the parent, all hell breaks loose.

Finally, if President Bush had reacted during the October 3, 1989 coup attempt the United States intervention could have been legitimate. The U.S. would have been helping a country that wanted to overthrow its illegitimate government and install a government that the Panamanian people wished for. The civilian casualties would have been significantly reduced because it would not have looked as if the U.S. was coming in to overtake their country but simply that the U.S. was supporting a rebellion by the people. It is unfortunate, but no matter how hard the new Panamanian government tries to become legitimate in the eyes of the world, the only thing the world will see is an American puppet.

If you take a step back and look at the overall effect of the Panamanian invasion it is easy to come to the conclusion that it was a move made at the wrong time. Yes, it is good to feel American again flex it’s muscles and appear to be the white knight in shining armor riding in to save the oppressed country ruled by the ruthless dictator, but you must take into consideration that both the white knight and the dictator were once being controlled by the same feudal lord.

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